I Don’t Need A Lawyer, Much Less You
Issue 108 Fiction Poetry Nonfiction Art + Photography Film Music Books For Creators more

I Don’t Need A Lawyer, Much Less You

A Play in One Act

 Victor Schwartzman
arrow_drop_down
 Victor Schwartzman
I Don’t Need A Lawyer, Much Less You
by Victor Schwartzman  FollowFollow
arrow_drop_down
For me, writing is a life's journey. I rarely submit--for better or worse, the writing is 'the thing.' The first goal is to have work in progress....read more The second is that the work is personally satisfying. The third is that the content deals with an important issue. If I don't write regularly, I get very strange and it isn't pleasant. Probably my best stuff is the graphic novel, The Winnipeg Weakly Herald. Red Fez has the first seven (unedited) chapters.
I Don’t Need A Lawyer, Much Less You
9636 0 0 0shareShare
Share:

THE STAGE IS BARE except for a plain meeting table and two chairs at the table, opposite each other. There is nothing on the table. Circling the interior of the stage, starting with the front edge of stage left, going around and coming back to the front edge of stage right, is a wall. There is one door on the left side, another stage centre rear, a third on the right. The doors are solid, with a hole cut in the upper centre for an opening. Bars cover the openings. If the production cannot afford walls, just the doors will do.

The sound of the left door being unlocked. The door opens. It opens away from the audience, so the opened door does not block the view. A hand opens the door, then withdraws. BILL enters, through the door. He is in his late twenties, dressed in a decent but not expensive business suit. He carries a lawyer’s brief case (boxy and thick). The hand pulls the door closed. He stops and looks over his shoulder.

BILL

How long, then? He said that? He isn’t, is he? Well, he is.

The door is locked. BILL sighs impatiently and walks to one of the chairs. He puts his briefcase on the table and sits. BILL opens the brief case and takes a file and a notepad from it. He places them on the table before him. He pauses, looks around, waiting. He takes a pen from his pocket and places on the notepad. He waits, looks at his wrist watch. Finally BILL hears the door on stage right being unlocked. He looks towards stage right.

The door on stage right opens. As with the left door, it opens away from the audience so the hand opening and closing it is visible and the door does not block the view. JOHN enters, through the opening. JOHN is in his late sixties. He wears the shirt and pants of a prisoner in a jail. JOHN is not in good health, and walks with some pain. A hand reaches out, takes the door handle and pulls it closed. The door is locked.

BILL

Mr. Stein.

JOHN says nothing, and does not seem to even acknowledge BILL’s existence. He looks at BILL, walks slowly to the table.

BILL

Mr. Stein. I’m Bill Doggit. Your attorney. The Court appointed me.

JOHN now stands behind the chair. BILL holds out his hand, to shake. JOHN looks at the hand but does not move to shake it.

BILL

You can ask for another attorney. I was the only one to volunteer.

JOHN says nothing. He does not ignore BILL, he is watching him, sizing him up. BILL withdraws his hand, sits down.

BILL

I have your file here. I’m here. Are you here?

JOHN looks at him.

BILL

Sorry, just trying to lighten things up.

JOHN pulls the chair back and sits, heavily. He is in pain when standing or walking. BILL opens the file, picks up his pen.

BILL

The hearing is Friday. It’s the first step towards trial. The prosecutor outlines the charges. You enter your plea to those charges. The Judge then orders it to trial, probably in three months. So. To start off. How will you plea? Not guilty? ...?    

JOHN studies BILL, his gaze intelligent, cynically amused—communicated through body language, arched eyebrows, etc.

BILL

Guilty?   Not guilty by reason of insanity?

BILL puts his pen down.

Mr. Stein. Give me a break.

JOHN

I’m the one in jail.

BILL

We’re talking. Good.

JOHN

Coffee.

He says nothing more. BILL stands, goes to stage left where he entered and knocks on the door. It is not opened.

BILL

Could we get two coffees? One with milk.

He looks at JOHN.

How do you take it?

JOHN does not react. BILL turns back to the door.
The other black. Thanks. I’ll listen for it, don’t worry.

BILL returns to the table and sits. He waits but JOHN says nothing.

JOHN

This is such a cliché.

BILL

Cliché?

JOHN

The prison meeting room. The upcoming trial. The eager young lawyer.

BILL

The crotchety old client. ...Don’t you want a defence?

No response.

You wouldn’t talk with me on the phone. But you agreed to meet.

JOHN nods.

You agreed to meet, but you didn’t agree to talk?

JOHN nods.

Mr. Stein, this is ridiculous. We can’t proceed this way.

JOHN

We?

BILL

There is evidence, Mr. Stein. Witnesses. A very large residence was destroyed. You have been arrested and held without bail. You should take this seriously, Mr. Stein. ...I apologize. I know you are taking this legal situation seriously. So here I am. To meet you and find out what type of defence you want. It’s my job to make this happen. All I ask is that you work with me.

JOHN looks at him but still says nothing. There is a knock on the door, stage left. BILL stands, goes to it. There is the sound of the door being unlocked, then opened. A hand reaches out with a cup of coffee. BILL takes it. The hand is withdrawn and returns with a second cup. BILL takes it also. The hand grips the door handle and closes the door. The door is locked. BILL returns to the table and sits. He puts one cup before JOHN, holds the other. JOHN picks up his cup of coffee, sips—and winces.

BILL

How’s the coffee?

JOHN sighs--but drinks more. BILL puts his cup on the table without tasting it.

I don’t actually like coffee. Makes me too wired. Look, sorry again about saying you should take this seriously. I am sure you do.

JOHN sips some more.

If you want a defence, you have to talk to me.

JOHN looks at him.

Or you could write notes. Look, Mr. Stein.

JOHN leans forward, looking at him.

I’m not here to make money. This is pro bono or close to it. There is a minimum fee, based on your income. Are you prepared to pay a minimum fee? ...I could wave that. If we work together. I’m here to help you, Mr. Stein, I’m not here for the money.

JOHN

You’re a lawyer.

BILL

Yes.

JOHN

And you say you’re not here for the money.

BILL

No. Yes.

JOHN sips more coffee and winces.

JOHN

Are you a good lawyer?

BILL

Yes.

JOHN

I don’t think so. This is sludge. You could have gotten better.

BILL

Let’s talk about the case.

JOHN puts the cup down.

I’ll go then. I don’t need this.

JOHN

You give up easily.

BILL

I’ll fight if and when I have a client who fights with me.

JOHN

I am fighting with you.

BILL

You know what I mean.

JOHN

You’re here to fight for yourself, not me.

BILL

We’re not going to talk about the case, are we?

JOHN

Should we?

BILL

Sure.

JOHN

Because otherwise you can’t prepare the defence.

BILL

We’re on a roll.

JOHN

But it doesn’t matter to you if the ruling is guilty or not guilty.

BILL

Of course it matters.

JOHN

The publicity is why you’re here. My trial will be high profile. Good for your career. Winning my case would be gravy.

BILL

Not necessarily. You could be a career disaster.

JOHN

I probably will be. My life has been a disaster. Why do you think I want your help?

BILL

Some people don’t like lawyers. Fair enough. I assumed you wanted to check me out. Have I checked out?

JOHN

No, you’re still here.

BILL

I thought I would ask the questions. But I hear you. I think I hear you. You ask instead. What do you want?

JOHN holds his cup over the notepad, then puts it on the notepad. BILL stands, walks to the closed door on stage left and knocks.   

BILL

Two premium coffees, please. Coffee to die for. No, I hadn’t heard you stopped having coffee to die for when capital punishment was abolished.

JOHN

Don’t humour him.

BILL

It isn’t humour.

BILL turns to the door and laughs.

No, I just didn’t expect a joke, not in here, from a guard. Yes, it is an inside joke. And we’re inside. So. It would be a big help if you could please get two of the better coffees. Both black. Thanks.

BILL returns to the table and sits.

You heard.

JOHN

I did.

BILL

I’m trying.

JOHN

You are.

BILL shakes his head, looks down at his own cup of the awful coffee, picks it up and takes a long drink. He shivers—it is bad.

BILL

At the very least, we have to enter a plea on Friday.

JOHN

The process requires a plea.

BILL

Yes.

JOHN

But if I don’t enter a plea, the Judge will enter one for me.

BILL

Yes...

JOHN

Not guilty.

BILL

Yes. If a defendant refuses to—

JOHN

So, you want to do “the very least”, but it is already done. You are a lawyer.

BILL

We prefer attorney.

JOHN

Why?

BILL

I have no idea. There are a lot of lawyer jokes, but no attorney jokes. No barrister jokes.

JOHN

What’s a thousand barristers chained together at the bottom of the ocean, a good start. A thousand counsel? A thousand attorneys? Why is a thousand lawyers funny?

BILL

A thousand lawyers drowning is not funny.

JOHN

Why not?

BILL

Too unrealistic. A thousand lawyers would generate enough hot air to float to the surface in a big bubble.

JOHN

So, one lawyer chained to the bottom of the ocean would be funny.

BILL

Not if you were the lawyer. We joke, but I don’t want to die. You don’t want to die.

JOHN

I dreamed last night I was dead. Worse, I killed myself.

BILL

I’m sorry.

JOHN

For what? It was a dream.

BILL

I dreamed I was dead too. A car accident. But I woke up, and here I am. Just like you.

JOHN

We both had the same dream?

BILL

No. I had an accident. Drove off an overpass.

JOHN

On purpose?

BILL

I don’t have time for this, Mr. Stein. We have work to do.

JOHN

This is how I work.

BILL

This can’t be how you work.

JOHN

It is.

BILL

No one could work like this.

JOHN

I do.

BILL

You can’t expect to manipulate people and get what you want.

A knock on the door at stage left. BILL exchanges a look with JOHN. BILL stands. As he walks towards it, there is the sound of the left door unlocking. BILL reaches the door and it opens. The hand pulls back from the door handle, then returns with a cup of coffee. This is a different cup, bigger, nicer. BILL takes the cup, then takes the second cup the hand gives him. The hand pulls the door closed and the door is locked again. BILL takes the two cups of coffee and returns to the table. He places one cup in front of JOHN, then sits at the table. JOHN looks at it, picks it up, sniffs, drinks some, smiles. He leans back, eyes closed.

BILL

Cheers.

BILL sips some of his coffee, then puts it down and picks up his pen.

BILL

Shall we?

JOHN

Aren’t we?

BILL

He puts down the pen.

No. We’ve gotten coffee, then better coffee. I don’t even like coffee.

JOHN

Can I have yours?

BILL

No. Don’t they give you decent coffee in here? Mr. Stein? No answer, no coffee.

JOHN

Blackmail.

BILL

If it works. And I think it will.

JOHN

I’m given sludge. The guards say they have orders. I like good coffee, so I can’t have it.

BILL

They control you by withholding good coffee? Is that why you agreed to meet with me? For the coffee?

JOHN

He shrugs in agreement.

I would have met you in person anyway.

BILL

For entertainment.

JOHN shrugs again.

JOHN

I don’t think it’s about control, with them.

BILL

To punish you? What have you done?

JOHN

Nothing. Apart from what got me in here.

BILL

I can speak to the prison officials about this.

JOHN

Good luck.

BILL pushes his cup of coffee across the table to JOHN, then holds it at the last minute.

BILL

We’ll talk, right?

JOHN

Right.

BILL

About your case.

JOHN

Deal.

BILL lets go of the coffee and pushes it the last few inches to JOHN. JOHN takes it with a smile and sips a little. BILL picks up his pen, moves his notebook a little to get it into position to write.

JOHN

You don’t use a laptop?

BILL

A computer? Sometimes. I have one in my case.

JOHN

Why aren’t you using it?

BILL

I didn’t think about it.

JOHN says nothing.

Getting this meeting was hard enough. I need to take notes, but computers spook some people. So I played it safe with low tech.

JOHN

Low tech.

BILL

Most people find it less threatening. Would you prefer the notebook?

JOHN

Which is easier for you?

BILL

The computer. I type fast and sometimes I can’t read my own handwriting. Can I use it instead?

JOHN

No.

BILL

I want my coffee back.

JOHN

I, I, I. I thought this was about me.

BILL

Please, keep the coffee.

JOHN

Thank you.

BILL

I would like to talk about your case.

JOHN

Why?

BILL

You know the hearing is Friday.

JOHN

I meant why do you want to represent me.

BILL

We talked about that before.

JOHN

You want me to trust you, don’t you?

BILL

To be honest—

JOHN

Never trust someone who begins a sentence, “To be honest.”

BILL says the following, one sentence at a time, JOHN’s watching him but not saying anything forcing him each time to the next sentence, pushing it out of him.

BILL

To be clear, there are several reasons. Defence attorneys are expected to do some pro bono work. Your case, what I know of it, interested me. Yes. Your case is high profile, the media will be following it. I’ve been an attorney three years and I’m getting tired of being in the basement. Publicity would be good for my career, yes, to a degree I want your case because it might help me. But Mr. Stein, that does not mean I will not help you at the same time.

JOHN

You help me, I help you. A trade-off.

BILL

If you want to see it that way. So. Shall we?

JOHN

Why do you keep talking about pro bono work?

BILL

Pro bono or very low fee. I assume you have no money.

JOHN

I have what I need.

BILL

Let’s be realistic. Depending on the length of the hearing, the trial, the preparation I’ll have to do for both, a defence at normal hourly rates would come in at around $100,000. Do you have that kind of money?

JOHN

On what I did for a living?

BILL

I didn’t think so. Look, John.

JOHN

We’re not there.

BILL

Enough. You know what, Mr. Stein? Enough. Maybe the Court will order me back here, but enough.

BILL picks up the paper pad and puts it in his brief case, along with the file. He closes the case, then puts his pen in his shirt pocket and stands.

I want my coffee back.

JOHN also stands. He takes a last sip, then hands over the coffee, which BILL takes but does not look at. He watches BILL start towards the door on stage left, then JOHN turns and goes to the door on stage right.

BILL knocks on the stage left door. JOHN knocks on the stage right door. Nothing happens. Each knocks again. They wait. They look at each other. No one comes to answer the knock at either door.

BILL goes to the door at stage centre rear. He tries the handle, it is locked. He knocks, looks through it. JOHN knocks again on the door at stage right. No one answers. He looks at BILL. BILL looks back, still holding the cup of coffee JOHN gave him, and the brief case. Reluctantly, JOHN returns to the table and sits. BILL remains standing.

BILL

What’s going on?

JOHN

How would I know?

BILL

You live here.

JOHN

Maybe the guards had something to do.

BILL

On both sides?

JOHN

Let’s give it a few minutes.

BILL

I don’t like this.

JOHN

Neither do I.

BILL tries the handle on the centre door again. He looks out its barred opening.

BILL

I don’t see anything.

JOHN

Maybe all the guards are in a meeting.

BILL

No, not just anyone. I don’t see anything. It’s all foggy. Does this window look out? On the outside?

JOHN

I thought we were in the centre of the prison.

BILL

So did I.

JOHN

It might be the courtyard.

BILL

Is there a courtyard?

JOHN

I don’t know. They don’t let me out.

BILL returns to the table but does not sit. He finally looks at the cup of good coffee he holds.

BILL

You drank it. I’ve been carrying an empty cup.

JOHN

Your cup isn’t empty, it’s waiting.

BILL

Waiting is emptiness.

He puts the cup down on the table, then the case. Then he returns to the door at stage left and looks out the window. BILL then goes to the door on stage right, where he also looks out the window. JOHN watches him, leaning forward, tense. As BILL returns to the table JOHN sits back.

JOHN

Nothing.

BILL

This is...odd.

JOHN

We seem stuck together, at least for the moment. Perhaps we should talk about the case.

BILL looks at him unbelieving.

JOHN

Maybe it will help.

BILL sits at the table. He opens the case and takes the file, pen, notepad etc. from it. As he prepares there is the following dialogue:  

JOHN

It was awful. I enjoyed none of it.

BILL

That’s good to know.

JOHN

Don’t be sarcastic. You haven’t been through what I’ve been through.

BILL

I haven’t done what you’ve done.

JOHN stiffens.

BILL

I apologize. That was out of line.

JOHN

JOHN relaxes, then shrugs.

I pushed you.

BILL

Thanks. But there is no excuse. I’m supposed to be a professional.

JOHN

Yes, you are supposed to be a professional.

BILL
I thought you said don’t be sarcastic.

JOHN

I meant you.

They face each other. By now BILL has held the pen, poised over the waiting notepad, for a few moments. Now he puts the pen down.

BILL

I need coffee.

JOHN

You don’t like coffee.

BILL

I don’t. But I need a strong drink. That’s as close as I will get right now.

JOHN

Try the guards.

BILL

They’re not there.

JOHN

This is for coffee.

BILL stands, walks to the door on stage left, looks through the barred window, raises his hand to knock and then stops, hand in mid air.

BILL

Hello. Could I get two more cups of the good coffee? Both black. Say, what happened before? We wanted to end the meeting and no one came and...and....

BILL stops talking--the guard has walked away. BILL looks through the window a moment longer, then back at JOHN.

BILL

That was fast. Maybe I should just stand here and wait.

JOHN

Me, I wouldn’t stand waiting for anything. Maybe it is good to have a lawyer.

BILL

Attorney. This is strange.

JOHN

I don’t like it any more than you do.

BILL

Maybe they want us to talk.

JOHN

Why would they care?

BILL

They’re justice officials.

After a pause, JOHN and BILL both laugh.

Probably they’re just busy.

JOHN

I don’t think so. How can they know you don’t need help?

BILL

Don’t worry. They’re keeping an eye on us. All these rooms have security cameras.

JOHN looks up, followed by BILL.

JOHN

Where?

BILL

Sometimes they’re hidden.

JOHN

They’re never hidden. The whole point is that it’s up there with its red light on, watching you, and that you know it. They both look down, and at each other.

BILL

There is always a logical explanation.

JOHN

I don’t like this. This is not right.

BILL

Could we talk about your plea?

JOHN

They were at the door when you went back for coffee.

BILL

The guard was waiting.

JOHN stands with a grunt and with difficulty walks to the door on stage right. He looks through the window. Nothing. He knocks, and waits, but not long. He exchanges a look with BILL.

JOHN

Routine?

BILL

We’re in a prison. It has a system.

JOHN

The only thing that seems to work is getting coffee.

BILL

You don’t like it here? I agree. Let’s finish this meeting so I can start on your defence.

JOHN

So you can get out of here.

BILL

Sure. And, maybe, you.

JOHN returns to the table and sits.

JOHN

I don’t remember the last time I ate.

BILL

Neither do I.

There is a knock on stage door left. BILL exchanges a look with JOHN.

BILL

I’ll ask if they have croissants.

BILL stands, walks to the door on stage left. The door is unlocked and opens. The hand reaches out with one cup of good coffee, then a second. BILL takes them.

BILL

Say, I....

The hand takes the handle on its side of the door and pulls the door closed. The door is locked. BILL stands there for a moment with the two cups of coffee, then returns to the table, hands JOHN one cup, and sits. For a moment neither says anything.

JOHN

No croissants.  

BILL

You’re never satisfied.

JOHN

Why should I be? I’m 74. How much time do I have left?

BILL

Enough.

JOHN

Said by someone who still has enough. Well let me tell you, you can never have enough time. You only realize that when it’s running out.

BILL

There is one time in life when people usually succeed, and that’s my age. I’ve been a junior junior in a large firm for years. I need something big to happen. Who needs more years doing cast-off cases?

JOHN

If there is one thing I can tell you from my experience...

BILL

You are not my role model.

JOHN

...that you should consider, it’s this. Enjoy the ride. At the end of the road there is usually a cliff.

BILL

Not always.

JOHN

For that, I am a role model.

BILL

You’re too cynical. Following your logic you’d never enjoy the trip because you would never take it. You’d be worried about the cliff. You’d never get in the car. Look, can we talk about your case now?

JOHN

We are. In a way.

BILL

Not in a very productive way.

JOHN

It’s been very productive.

BILL

Sure. You’ve gotten good coffee.

JOHN

Now you are the one being cynical. I’ve been getting to know you.

BILL

Ah. So this has all been a love test. Have I passed?

JOHN

No, you’re still here.

BILL

You did that joke before.

BILL takes a gulp of his black coffee, grimaces.

JOHN

Shall I tell you why you’re still here? For yourself?

BILL

Been there, done that. You forget I tried to leave.

JOHN

So did I.

BILL

You never wanted to be here. It didn’t count.

BILL holds the coffee cup, playing with it, looking at JOHN much as JOHN first looked at him.

JOHN

What shall we talk about now? How about the real issue. For you. Is it that you want the easy way out?

BILL says nothing.

JOHN

...Do you... Not guilty.

BILL still says nothing.

Not guilty due to extenuating circumstances. All I wanted was freedom. Anyone would understand that.

BILL nods.

I don’t like to talk about it.

BILL nods.

And you want to make me talk about it.

BILL nods.

You think, if you keep quiet, I’ll talk about it.

BILL shrugs. JOHN looks at him, BILL looks back. They both pick up their cups of coffee and take a drink. BILL puts his down, JOHN continues to hold his.

Very well. Your career did not mean so much to you that you were willing to stay in the same room with me. You did want to leave.

BILL

Thank you.

JOHN

I was difficult so I could see what kind of person you are. You wanted to leave because you could see I was difficult and it would take a lot of work. You say you want to boost your career, but isn’t the real issue you aren’t willing to work for it?

BILL

I’ve worked hard to get where I am.

JOHN

Which, according to you, is nowhere.

BILL

If you walked into this meeting intending to be difficult, I walked in to make it work.

JOHN

You said yourself, you tried to leave.

BILL

Now I have your plea, which is all I need for Friday. So, Mr. Stein, I win.

JOHN

You wanted to leave this room as much as I did.

BILL

Did I?  

JOHN

You are manipulative. You lie well. Perhaps you are a good lawyer.

BILL

Well then, your test has worked out. Can we proceed?

JOHN

I gave you what you wanted.

BILL

There’s more.

JOHN

Such as?

BILL

Whether you’ll put forward a plea bargain. Or consider one they will probably put forward. To do my work, I must understand what you want.

JOHN

I want to stay in here.

BILL

I thought you wanted freedom.

JOHN

It fell apart for me, outside. The pension wasn’t enough. Here I eat better.

BILL

It isn’t safe.

JOHN

It’s as safe as the street I lived on.

BILL

You have no freedom.

JOHN

I have freedom from worrying. No worries about where the insurance or food money will come from.

BILL

If you’re so happy, why dream you killed yourself?

JOHN

Why dream you were in a car accident?

BILL

Those were only dreams, Mr. Stein. We are here to discuss your case. Not to discuss you, certainly not to discuss me. I appreciate you don’t want to talk about it. You have to, at least once. Let’s get it over with. Let me do my job, for you.

JOHN

That was a nice speech. But I’m beginning to think we are here to discuss each other, and that the hearing will never happen.

BILL

You’re just amusing yourself again.

JOHN

Always.

BILL

I’m tired of it.

JOHN

For the first time you’re being honest.

BILL

I’ve been honest before.

JOHN

Probably. But I was referring to how you’re acting now.

BILL

And how was I acting before?

JOHN

Peppy.

BILL

Peppy?

JOHN

It was really quite annoying. But thank goodness, now I’m beginning to see a more interesting you.

BILL

Uh huh. You see the cynical, manipulative guy.

JOHN

Yes.

BILL

Ironic. Sounds like a description of you.

JOHN

I`m not cynical and manipulative.

BILL

Neither am I. Good. We`ve settled it.

JOHN

What is the most cynical, manipulative thing you`ve done? BILL picks up his cup of coffee and takes a drink.

BILL

I had a girlfriend. She’s a clerk. Pretty. Smart. I broke it off. Told her she was not good enough. Not good enough for me, for my firm. I made her feel awful. Broke her heart. At least, I think so. She found someone else kind of fast. The real reason I broke it off? She wanted to get pregnant. I spent too much time working, and then coming home to deal with her. The last thing I need is a baby.

JOHN

You wouldn’t make much of a father.

BILL

I’d make a lousy father. You have to care about it.

JOHN

It? When the baby comes, you’ll care about it.

BILL

And if I don’t?

JOHN

Sometimes all you can do is try.

BILL

Coming from the guy who says enjoy the drive because there’s a cliff at the end of the road. And what about you? What was the most cynical and manipulative thing you’ve ever done? Apart from agreeing to this meeting?

JOHN

I got married.

BILL

I can only guess your wife agrees.

JOHN

She passed away.

BILL

I’m sorry.

JOHN

You wouldn’t know. It was ten years ago. For the five years before that she lived in a, what is it they call it? A personal care home. I had to put her in there, she had lost, everything. I visited her every day, and every Saturday brought her a rose.

BILL

I’m sorry.

JOHN

You said that already. I don’t need an apology. I don’t want one.

BILL

What do you want?

JOHN

I want her back.

BILL

It sounds as if you were in love. How was getting married cynical and manipulative?  

JOHN

I wasn’t and am not in love. I was and am lonely. I needed someone. I met her waiting for a bus. She often told me she fell in love with me that first morning. I never fell in love with her. I never gave her what she wanted, or needed. I used her love to keep her with me. ....I’m out of coffee.

BILL stands without a word and walks to the door on stage left. He looks through the window. He knocks. He waits a moment, looks over his shoulder at JOHN, then knocks again. Still no response. BILL walks back to the table and sits again.

JOHN

I have you trained.

BILL

Maybe you should work on the guards.

JOHN

There is a pattern. I just don’t know what it is yet.

BILL

I’m beginning to wonder if they’ve forgotten about us. Think they’re all watching reality TV?

JOHN

Reality from a box. You’d think people could just look out a window.

BILL

Out the window isn’t edited. What’s wrong with escape?

JOHN

Watching doesn’t solve anything.

BILL

Few people would do what you did.

JOHN

Our first responsibility is to ourselves.

BILL

And that is what makes the world such a lovely place.

JOHN

I don’t see anyone going out of their way to give me a hand. BILL looks at him and holds up his hands.

BILL

The other lawyers would not touch your case. One reason I haven’t advanced is that I won’t work for certain clients. The ones that pay.

JOHN

Have they wanted you?

BILL shrugs.

So I need a lawyer, and should feel honoured you are here. Even though it is
hard for you to find clients.

BILL

To be the best you have to sink yourself into it totally. I can’t make that commitment. I don’t care enough to schmooze and play tricks. But I am a good lawyer, and I’ll be good for you.

JOHN

You assume I want a lawyer.

BILL

I used to think that. I still have hopes.

JOHN

Why?

BILL

Why do I still have hopes?

JOHN

That too. But why do you hope I want a lawyer?

BILL

I assume you want to avoid more jail time.

JOHN

But I don’t. I like it here.

BILL

That’s ridiculous.

JOHN

I don’t see the other inmates. I don’t worry. I don’t have long, anyway.

BILL

You could live another twenty years like this. With arthritis. In prison. Do you want that?

JOHN

There will be jail time, no matter what.

BILL

Not necessarily. The Court would not see you as a threat to the community. If your story is what I think it is.

JOHN

And what is that?

BILL

You were caught in a terrible situation. You did something. It was a mistake.

JOHN

It was a mistake. I had to do something. It just should not have been that.

BILL

Why don’t you tell me what led up to it? JOHN smiles.

JOHN

You are good. Very good.

BILL

But when I’m bad, I’m better. Do I have to be bad with you, Mr. Stein?

JOHN

I thought I was playing you but you were playing me. You had me going.

BILL

I thought so. Now we’re going nowhere again. So your plan is to sit back and let it happen.

JOHN

It will happen whether I sit or stand.

BILL

Didn’t you do it for a reason? Don’t you want it to come out in court?

JOHN

Perhaps if I talk about it, the guards will let us out.

BILL

If they want us to unbare our souls, we’ve been there.

JOHN

Yet we are still here. If they wanted more, Bill, what would it be?

BILL

You mean, if they were judging us?

JOHN

Judging? I’m not sure. For the sake of argument, you and I both dreamed we were dead. I was in jail and killed myself. You died in a car accident, you said. That wasn’t all, was it?

BILL

I drove off an overpass. In my dream.

JOHN

It wasn’t an accident.

BILL

No. The overpass was quite high up, with no guard rail. Out in the country. I’d always had it in the back of my mind, if I got fed up, this would be one place to do it. In my dream, I woke up and did not want to stay home alone or go to work. So I got in my car and drove almost an hour into the country. Got the car up to 160 an hour and took off the seat belt and drove straight off into the air.

JOHN

So we both dreamed we killed ourselves.

BILL

Yes.

JOHN

And we are in this room where the guards won’t answer us, except to provide coffee.

BILL

Yes.

JOHN

For eternity?

BILL

For at least the afternoon.

JOHN

I don’t feel good about this.

BILL

Have you ever seen ‘No Exit’, the play by Sartre?

JOHN

No.

BILL

It’s been a long time, I read it in college for a course. Several people are locked in a room together. They were in hell. There was no fire or torture pits, just other people.

JOHN

This does not feel like hell. I think the judgement is over, but there is no punishment.

BILL

We’re going somewhere else?

JOHN

I’m thinking that depends on us. We have a third door.

BILL

Yes.

JOHN

Being in this room with you does not feel like hell.

BILL

My ego is swelling. You know, sitting back now, not thinking of anything, I feel...an expectation.

JOHN

As if someone is waiting for something to happen?

JOHN

It does, yes. What if those weren’t dreams?  

JOHN

Then I suppose the big question is, what will it take to open that door? He looks to the door in the centre, as does BILL.

BILL

What are we supposed to do? Change?

JOHN

I don’t see that happening.

BILL

Change what? What can we change?

JOHN

Change is not my strong suit.  

BILL

I’m prepared to be flexible. So is this some kind of Twilight Zone episode or what?

JOHN

Presumably they want some form of self realization. He wants. She wants. It wants. They want.

BILL

We know we’ve been jerks. We’ve said it. Isn’t that self realization?

JOHN

Apparently knowing you are a jerk isn’t self realization enough.

BILL

Maybe I know I am a jerk and you don’t.

JOHN

I can see where this is going.

BILL

You’re the problem, not me.

JOHN

Isn’t that what you’ve told yourself about everyone, all along?

BILL

Only my share.

JOHN

I know I have been a fool. Why do you think I want to stay here?

BILL

Then what else are we supposed to do?

JOHN

I was in here a week, then I had the dream I hung myself. That was last night.

BILL

I dreamed I drove over that overpass last night. BILL stands. He goes to the door on stage left. He says to the window:

BILL

Could you tell us what this is all about? Hey! We want out! He waits, but there is no response.

JOHN

Say you want coffee.

BILL

We would like two more...yes black. Wait, I want to...

He turns to look at JOHN.

BILL

What do we do?

JOHN

It is their game. I say play it. We sit here and talk until something works.

BILL

Until we say the right things.

JOHN

Think the right things. I imagine the problem is, we are not thinking the right things.

BILL

Whatever. If that is what this is, then we keep talking, we have to figure it out, sooner or later.

JOHN

We can do this.

There is a knock on the stage left door, and it begins to open. The set goes dark for a few moments.

The stage lights come back on. JOHN and BILL sit at the table, as before. The table and floor by it are littered with many many used coffee cups.

JOHN

How long has it been?

BILL

About eighty gallons. I hate coffee. This must be hell.

JOHN

Perhaps waiting them out was not the best strategy.

BILL

You’re in heaven.

JOHN

The truth is, I prefer tea.

BILL

Tea? Why do you ask for coffee?

JOHN

I wanted to look tough when I met you. You can’t look tough drinking tea. BILL looks at him, shakes his head, then stands. He goes to the door on stage left and looks through the window.

BILL

We would like two breakfast teas, please. He looks back at JOHN, then starts towards the table.

JOHN

I find it hard to believe there is a special hell for people who love tea but can only drink coffee.

There is a knock on the door at stage left. BILL stops. They both look at the door. There is another knock. BILL walks to the door. The door is unlocked and opens. The hand is holding a tray. On it is a tea pot, two cups, and holders for milk and sugar—all matching china. BILL takes the tray.

BILL

I don’t suppose— The hand pulls the door closed. The door is locked. BILL returns with the tray to the table and sits down.

JOHN

This can’t be hell. They’re too nice.

BILL

The tea service matches. Even the spoons.

BILL pours them both a cup of tea.

BILL

How do you take it?

JOHN

A little milk and sugar, please.

BILL pours out some milk, and spoons in one sugar. He stirs it, then hands the cup on its plate to JOHN. JOHN takes it.

JOHN

Thank you. Allow me. How do you take it?

He puts the cup down.

BILL

The same.

JOHN pours some milk into the second cup, spoons in one sugar, stirs it and then hands the cup on its plate to BILL. BILL takes it.

BILL

Thank you.

They both sip some tea, smile and sip some more.

You’re right. This can’t be hell. They want us happy.

JOHN

And awake. The question is, why?

BILL

I can see why you that would be a tough one, Mr. Sunshine.

JOHN

I want to be happy.

BILL

Do you?

JOHN

Of course.

BILL

Is that why you married a woman you didn’t love? To make yourself happy?

JOHN

It passed for happiness. Or so I thought. Until the end. I was good to her at the end. And I knew how wrong I had been as I held her in my arms one last time. Her eyes. I held her, and her eyes. They were full of love. I told her I loved her. I think she heard. And then her eyes were blank. And I was left alone with what I had done to her.

BILL

I can’t say I was any better. She loved me too, I think.

JOHN

You think?

BILL

I told myself she didn’t.

JOHN

You lie to yourself a lot?

BILL

As much as you.

JOHN

I did tell myself she had a good life.

BILL

I told myself she had a good life.

JOHN

Good enough.

BILL

Yes. Good enough.

JOHN

Betty wanted children. Although she only talked about it after we married.

BILL

These days, things move faster.

JOHN

What happened to her?

BILL

To June? She found someone else. Or, someone else found her.

JOHN

Well, that isn’t so bad.

BILL

No.

JOHN

She wasn’t the first.

BILL

No.

JOHN

How many—

BILL

Three.

JOHN

Busy boy.

BILL

They were all adults.

JOHN

I’d like to say, unlike you.

BILL

But you’re not in the position to say that. Are you?

JOHN

No. Not if an adult is defined as caring for another person’s feelings more than your own, no. No.

BILL

There are many definitions.

JOHN

I’m beginning to think some definitions count more than others. Maybe only one definition.

BILL

Perhaps the answer lies behind door number three.

JOHN

Life isn’t television.

BILL

Isn’t it?

JOHN

When you looked out door three, you saw nothing. Just like on television.

BILL

I said I saw a mist, a fog. I don’t know what’s out there.

JOHN

Perhaps our choice is out there. But the door is locked.

BILL

And we have the key. So, for the sake of argument—

JOHN

Yes, let’s keep arguing. That has been helpful.

BILL

Look who’s talking. So you think we’re dead and this isn’t hell. We aren’t trapped here for eternity.

JOHN

Because there is a way out. A third door. Don’t you see that?

BILL

If we can think it through. So if there is no hell, there is no heaven.

JOHN

We don’t know that. Maybe this is how you get there. If your soul is problematic.

BILL

This isn’t how they teach it in church.

JOHN

Maybe nothing is like they teach it in church.

BILL

We don’t know we’re dead.

JOHN

Things aren’t looking up. What if there is an afterlife. That after we die we are transformed into something else.

BILL

That’s Buddhism or something.

JOHN

What if for a soul to graduate it must attain some internal...purity.

BILL

And if the soul is not pure yet, it comes back to life. To try again.

JOHN

So you’re saying our two souls have not graduated.

BILL

Not graduated over and over. Never got out of school.

JOHN

Because we keep making the same mistakes.

BILL

Until fate got fed up and stuck us here.

JOHN

Because our continued presence was poisoning the gene pool.

BILL

I guess I can forget about my three o’clock.

JOHN

How do we get through that third door? What is the key? It isn’t confession. Self awareness?

BILL

How can you ever know that? We’re never self aware. We see it all through filters.

JOHN

Filters of delusion.

BILL

Sure. I use it all the time.

JOHN

How can we show them, it, whatever, that we’ve learned?

BILL

Learned what?

JOHN

Learned that talk is cheap. We have to do something.

BILL

Like what?

They each pick up their cup of tea and have a sip.

BILL

If we haven’t figured it out in multiple lifetimes, we’ll be drinking a lot of tea.

JOHN

If we’re right, someone or something thinks we can figure it out.

BILL

Perhaps fate thinks it’s put us in this room and not given us the key but thrown it away. Perhaps that door will never open. Perhaps hell is caffeine.

JOHN

Speaking of all that, I haven’t needed the washroom.

BILL

Speaking of which, we’re out again.

JOHN

I wish we were.

JOHN looks at BILL.

What would you like? More tea?

BILL

Actually, a yogurt smoothie. Banana.

JOHN slowly stands, it is painful.

BILL

Oh, no, you don’t—

JOHN shakes his head and starts towards the door on stage left.

JOHN

You’ve done all the fetching so far.

BILL

I’m the eager lawyer, remember? You’re the client.

But BILL does not stand.

JOHN

All I’ve done is sit here or try to get out. I was so angry. Alone. She did so much for me.

BILL

You must have done a lot for her or she would not have stayed.

JOHN

I wish.

JOHN reaches the door on stage left and looks out the window.
Hello. My attorney would appreciate a banana yogurt smoothie. Large, yes. No, I’m fine.

JOHN turns to BILL.

I’ve put myself first, always. People who do not put themselves first get hurt first.

BILL

I don’t know. Self-sacrifice has such an unpleasant sound.

JOHN

If things were right, you would not sacrifice anything.

BILL

Exactly.

JOHN

You don’t understand.

JOHN starts to say something else but there is the sound of the door being unlocked. He steps back and it is opened. A hand reaches out holding a glass with a banana yogurt smoothie. JOHN takes the glass. The hand grips the door handle and pulls the door shut, followed by the sound of the door locking.

BILL

Maybe I’d better—

JOHN

I feel I should get it to you.

JOHN starts back to the table, walking painfully. A little of the smoothie slurps over the glass top as he walks, step by step.

BILL

You’re sure you don’t need help?

JOHN

Oh, I need help. For the first time, I don’t want it.

BILL

You’re spilling it.

JOHN

Like I spilled my life. Drop by drop. I asked for help whether I needed it or not. Getting other people to help you was always easier.

BILL

I’m glad you asked for a large.

JOHN

It is ironic. It is an odd time to have a realization for the first time in your life, when you are dead.

BILL

I appreciate your gesture but will it mean much if the glass is empty?

JOHN

I believe it will.

JOHN reaches BILL and hands him the glass. It is half full. BILL takes it. JOHN is panting with the effort, and leans against the table.

BILL

Thank you. Half empty.

JOHN

Half full.

BILL

Are you all right?

JOHN

I’m dead.

BILL

But you are still in pain.

JOHN

Yes. At least I could have left this body behind. JOHN goes to his chair and sits, heavily.

BILL

Well, we’re here as we were.

JOHN

Do you feel pain?

BILL

No. But I wasn’t sick.

JOHN

That isn’t the only pain. I sit here and see her face. Her eyes.

BILL

No, I don’t see anyone but me and you. You said you treated her well, at the end.

JOHN

What good was it at the end? I should have treated her well all along. I feel gray. Greyness all over, like a second skin.

He shivers.

BILL

You’re feeling depression.

JOHN

I’m feeling what I have done.

BILL

You can’t let it get you. We do what we have to. And move on.

JOHN

Perhaps that is why we are here.

BILL

Do you think getting me this drink will get us out of here? Let’s see. BILL lifts the glass and has a drink.

JOHN

Is it good?

BILL

Delicious. What there is of it.

JOHN

Do you want more?

BILL

Always. You?  

JOHN

I think I’ve finally had enough.

BILL

Can you ever have enough?

JOHN

Never used to think so. I just wanted it because I could have it.

BILL

And to see me fetch.

JOHN

That wasn’t nice. I enjoyed it. Such a waste.

BILL

There is no such thing as too much. Our lives are based on rewards. If you have overflow it slops onto the people around you. Everybody’s happy.

JOHN

I was not even thirsty.

BILL

I’m still thirsty.

JOHN

I’ll get you another.

BILL

You don’t have to.

JOHN

Actually, I think I do. JOHN stands, and slowly starts again towards the door on stage left.

BILL

Can you ask for a glass with a cover this time?

JOHN

Sounds good.

BILL

Our society is based on rewards. That means acquiring things.

JOHN

When we were on farms, we grew crops and ate them. These days we grow I don’t know what, we eat more of it than we should.

BILL

We are producing.

JOHN

And we work, and in exchange we get money to buy stuff to help us forget about work. It is an endless cycle. We live on a treadmill, always moving, going nowhere.

BILL

I know what you’re going to say.

JOHN

Good. Say it.

BILL

Dedicating your life to owning things is a bad deal. Things get broken or stolen or lost.

JOHN

You’re missing the point. There is nothing wrong with owning things if you appreciate their beauty. My wife used to tell me that. I should have listened. JOHN reaches the door on stage left. He looks through the window in the door.

JOHN

Another banana yogurt smoothie, please. This time, if you could, in a travel mug with a cover.

BILL

Try and get one with the company logo.

JOHN

To window.

What?

JOHN turns to BILL.

He said you can get it yourself. JOHN then turns to look at the centre door. He walks to it.

BILL

What did he tell you?

JOHN

To get it yourself. JOHN continues to the centre door.

BILL

What are you doing?

JOHN

For the first time in my life—

BILL

You’re dead.

JOHN

Yes. I have been dead for too long.

JOHN reaches the centre door. He takes the handle and pulls. The door opens. There is a bright white light on the other side. He walks into it. The door closes behind him.

BILL

Hey wait!

BILL jumps up and runs to the door. He pulls on the handle. It is locked.

Mr. Stein? Mr....? He looks through the window.
John, don’t leave me. I’m...I’m....

He looks but sees nothing, and then backs away from the centre door. He looks about the room. He does not know what to do next. He hears the sound of the door on stage left being unlocked. BILL walks to the chair JOHN originally used, and sits. The door on stage left opens. BILL looks at the open door.

0 comments

Discussion

There are no comments yet...
 

Join Red Fez

Start your adventure

By signing up you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.
Already a member? Log in

Log in

Continue your adventures